A special court on Wednesday dismissed the plea of an accused seeking to summon former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as defence witness in a coal scam case, saying the application was “vexatious” and it was apparently moved to delay the trial.
The court also rejected the plea of Jharkhand Ispat Pvt Ltd Director, R S Rungta, seeking to summon ex-minister of state for coal, Dasari Narayan Rao, as a witness in his defence in the case pertaining to alleged irregularities in allocation of North Dhadu coal block in Jharkhand to the firm.
Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar said that the grounds mentioned in Rungta’s plea for summoning these two as defence witnesses was “completely irrelevant and unwarranted”.
“In view of my aforesaid discussion, I accordingly dismiss the present application in so far as the summoning of two proposed witnesses namely Dasari Narayan Rao, the then minister of state for coal and Manmohan Singh, the then prime minister/minister of coal, is concerned being vexatious and having been moved to delay and to defeat the ends of justice,” the judge said in his 23-page order.
The court further noted, “Thus, once again it is crystal clear that summoning of the two proposed witnesses by accused R S Rungta for the grounds as mentioned in the application is not only completely irrelevant and unwarranted but the application has been apparently moved for the purposes of causing delay so as to defeat the ends of justice and is vexatious in nature.”
It said that from perusal of nature of charges framed against the accused in the case, it was clear that proceedings which took place in the ministry of steel and the ministry of coal, including two screening committee meetings, was of no relevance to the matter.
However, the court said record reflecting constitution of members of screening committee relevant to the 27th and 30th meeting and the record of policy decision for allocation of coal block by joint venture/consortium could be permitted to be placed on record as urged by the accused in the plea.
“Accordingly, prosecution (CBI) is directed to intimate the authority with whom the said record as stated by them in their reply is stated to be available. Thereafter, the said record can be permitted to be placed on record....,” the court said.
In his plea, Rungta had sought summoning of Manmohan Singh and Rao as defence witnesses besides production of certain documents relating to constitution of 27th and 30th screening committee and the records relating to the manner in which the minutes were drawn and circulated amongst concerned ministries and constituent members.
Regarding Singh and Rao, the accused had said that they were relevant witnesses for his defence as only they can tell as to under which powers the screening committee went ahead to allocate the coal block to JIPL.
CBI’s senior public prosecutor A P Singh had objected to the summoning of Singh and Rao, contending that the plea was filed with a view to delay the trial.
The court noted that accused was certainly within his right to move the plea seeking summoning of certain documents and witnesses in his defence but it is the duty of court to ensure that process was not exercised to protract the trial.
“At the outset, I may however state that for none of the aforesaid reasons as have been spelled out in the application either of the two witnesses proposed to be examined in defence by the accused can be stated to be relevant or having any bearing on the merits of the case,” the judge said.
The court said from the evidence led by CBI, “it is clear that file containing recommendation of 27th and 30th screening committee meeting, never travelled to PMO for approval from Manmohan Singh either as prime minister or minister of coal.”
It said that it has come on record that file containing recommendation of 30th Screening Committee meeting travelled to the desk of Dasari Narayan Rao “only for seeking formal approval as to the proposal formulated by the 30th screening committee with respect to the issue of leadership pursuant to joint allocation of the coal block.”
Referring to the depositions of some prosecution witnesses in the case, the court said the documents reflecting constitution of members of screening committee who had participated in the two screening committee meetings have already been placed on record and witnesses have been extensively cross-examined by the defence counsel.
Besides R S Rungta, the other two accused in the case are JIPL and its other director R C Rungta.
JIPL and both the Rungtas were earlier put on trial by the court which had framed charges against them for securing allotment of the coal block allegedly on the basis of false and forged documents. The accused are out on bail.